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Huawei steps into Samsung gap

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Barely weeks after Samsung buried its latest large-format smartphone, Huawei stepped into the breach with its most serious contender yet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Five years ago, which represents many lifetimes in the smartphone world, Samsung sent shockwaves through the industry when it announced it had sold 10-million units of its Galaxy Note, the device that introduced the world to the “phablet” concept of large-screen phones.

Its wild popularity utterly contradicted all the derision heaped on it by hip online technology media. Engadget, then still enamoured with the iPhone’s miniature screen, harrumphed that it was “obnoxiously large”. No wonder people tend to forget the first Note had a mere 5.3-inch screen.

By the time Apple caught up with a 5.5-inch screen on the iPhone 6 Plus in 2014, the same publication soothingly declared, “The market has changed, and it was high time Apple did the same.”

Today, the phablet market is the most vigorously contested of all smartphone segments. However, the main contenders for the large-screen crown have all but abdicated. Samsung’s beautifully designed Note 7 not only crashed and burned, but also proved to be such a public relations disaster that it became the first device ever banned by model name from all major airlines.

Meanwhile, Apple declared the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus to be “the best iPhone we have ever made”, stating the obvious while launching a truly unexciting phone. Only Samsung’s failings made Apple look good.

Now suddenly, a new contender has stepped into the breach. Chinese-headquartered Huawei, which has slowly clawed its way into third place in global smartphone sales with quality phones at competitive prices, is about to make a big leap.

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At a launch event in Munich last week, it unveiled one of the most ambitious phablets the market has seen, packing no less than 5.9-inches of display into its new Mate 9. But the size is not the main thing going for it. Two other features stand out dramatically.

Almost as a response to the Samsung battery blow-out, Huawei has made “a safe, faster-charging battery” one of the centrepieces of the phone. It houses a massive 4000 mAh high-density battery, using its own technology that it has branded SuperCharge.

It promises more than two days of uninterrupted performance., and early tests bear this out. Using the new USB-C connector type and a proprietary cable, it charges in half the time of previous versions, and a 10 minute quick charge gives half a day of usage. This is on top of the kind of battery management options that have given the Huawei P series an edge since it startled the industry with the P6 in 2013.

To overcome fears that this “super battery” could be another Note 7 debacle in the making, Huawei has provided more details on its battery management tools than ever before, spelling out what it calls “Super Safe 5-gate protection”, and providing the user with “real-time voltage, current and temperature monitoring to eliminate safety hazards”.

The second standout feature of the phone is a dual-lens camera engineered in collaboration with lens pioneers Leica. Their relationship made its debut with the Huawei P9 earlier this year, and has been cemented just eight months later with an even better camera: one that gives the Samsung S7 and S7 Edge a run for their image money.

The optical performance of the camera module is given steroids by the dual-lens format, made up of a 12-megapixel/F2.2 RGB sensor and a 20-megapixel/F2.2 monochrome sensor. Huawei has used what it calls “fusion algorithms” to enable  the two lenses to work in concert.

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“The RGB sensor captures true-to-life colours, while the monochrome sensor captures intricate details and depth, resulting in the iconic Leica Image Style,” ran the launch announcement. “When paired with the leading dual-lens camera Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) solution and the industry’s first dual-camera pixel binning technology, the Huawei Mate 9 has a superior night shot capability.”

At the launch, Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO  Richard Yu said that the phone was also designed to address the “top three pain points of smartphone users: ageing performance, meaning it slows down over time; not enough battery life; and an average camera”.

“You always need a better camera,” he declared. That is taken for granted by most users. But how does one address ageing performance? The longer a phone is in use, the more the battery degrades, the more memory allocation becomes clogged, and the more the software becomes corrupted. Yu believes Huawei has the answer. And it is close to artificial intelligence.

“A machine learning algorithm makes predictive allocation of resources. This enables smart memory allocation, and smart storage optimisation. By learning the user’s behaviour patterns, it makes sure the highest priority applications are given priority in system resources.

“Our new EMUI 5.0 interface for Android learns from users and from apps, and provides spontaneous resource optimisation. So, after eight months of usage, instead of the phone having deteriorated, you will see over 80% performance improvement.”

This potential allowed Yu to deliver one of the most powerful punchlines yet in the brief history of smartphone launches: “Born fast, stays fast.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Password managers don’t protect you from hackers

Using a password manager to protect yourself online? Research reveals serious weaknesses…

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Top password manager products have fundamental flaws that expose the data they are designed to protect, rendering them no more secure than saving passwords in a text file, according to a new study by researchers at Independent Security Evaluators (ISE).

“100 percent of the products that ISE analyzed failed to provide the security to safeguard a user’s passwords as advertised,” says ISE CEO Stephen Bono. “Although password managers provide some utility for storing login/passwords and limit password reuse, these applications are a vulnerable target for the mass collection of this data through malicious hacking campaigns.”

In the new report titled “Under the Hood of Secrets Management,” ISE researchers revealed serious weaknesses with top password managers: 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass and LastPass.  ISE examined the underlying functionality of these products on Windows 10 to understand how users’ secrets are stored even when the password manager is locked. More than 60 million individuals 93,000 businesses worldwide rely on password managers. Click here for a copy of the report.

Password managers are marketed as a solution to eliminate the security risks of storing passwords or secrets for applications and browsers in plain text documents. Having previously examined these and other password managers, ISE researchers expected an improved level of security standards preventing malicious credential extraction. Instead ISE found just the opposite. 

Click here to read the findings from the report.

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MWC: Next generation of inflight connectivity to be unveiled

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Next week at Mobile World Congress, the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal progress on its mission towards enabling the next generation of inflight connectivity. This follows a significant start for the Alliance, which has seen membership increase five-fold since the first meeting in June of last year. The Alliance has a new research laboratory setup and continues progress through its three working groups, writing specifications for the technology, requirements, and operations.

These developments represent a huge leap towards the goal of making connectivity as easy and enjoyable in the skies as it is on the ground. Appearing as part of the Airbus stand (Hall 6, stand 6G34), the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal specification topics that have been completed and published to its membership.

“The passenger experience with inflight connectivity remains one of the great technology challenges. From Day One we have been determined to deliver on our mission to bring industries and technologies together to make the inflight internet experience simple to access and a delight to use,” said the Alliance’s Chief Executive Officer, Jack Mandala.

“I have been tremendously encouraged by the enthusiastic and committed response we have seen and the widening areas of expertise we can call upon as more and more companies and organisations continue to join us,” he added.

Announced during MWC 2018, the Seamless Air Alliance has since grown to twenty-three membercompanies with more than one-hundred key personnel from across the membership participating in its three working groups, with numbers continuing to increase.

The Seamless Air Alliance was created by founding members Airbus, Airtel, Delta Air Lines, OneWeb and Sprint, and quickly joined by Air France KLM, Aeromexico, and GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes and global technology leaders including Astronics, Collins Aerospace, Comtech, Cyient, iDirect, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Latecoere, Nokia, and Panasonic. 

Today, the Alliance is pleased to announce five additional new members: Adaptive Channel, Etihad Airways, GlobalReach Technology, Safran, and SITAONAIR.

“We are extremely pleased to have these companies join and be a part of the companies driving the next generation of connectivity.” said Mr Mandala.

The Seamless Air Alliance will enable travelers boarding any flight, on any airline, anywhere in the world, to use their own devices to automatically connect to the Internet with no complicated login process nor paywall to scramble over.

The Alliance is also announcing the release of a new research study on the economic benefit of standardization on the inflight connectivity market at Mobile World Congress. This report is available for download at https://www.seamlessalliance.com/publications/

The Alliance is moving rapidly towards an expected demonstration of the technology later in 2019 and anticipates massive interest in Barcelona from the whole communications eco-system.

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